New Mexico’s “three-strikes” law is heading to the state senate for an overhaul after House Bill 56 recently passed. New Mexico currently has a “three-strikes” law in place that automatically increases the sentences of three-time violent felons to life imprisonment.
A third-time New Mexico offender faces life in prison regardless of where the previous two felonies took place. There are five different criminal acts listed within the current statute:
- murder in the first or second degree,
- shooting at or from a motor vehicle resulting in great bodily harm,
- kidnapping resulting in great bodily harm,
- aggravated sexual assault
- robbery while armed with a deadly weapon resulting in great bodily harm.
The purpose of the statute is to protect society from repeat violent criminals. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice the statute weighs heavily on crimes that result in “great bodily harm.”
How Would the Proposed Bill Amend the Three-Strikes Law?
House Bill 56 proposes to add 16 new crimes to the list that would warrant a life sentence. Among those crimes added is voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault with intent to commit a violent felony, third-degree aggravated battery, second or third degree shooting at a dwelling or occupied building, second or third degree criminal sexual contact of a minor, armed robbery, aggravated arson, and aggravated battery upon a peace officer to name a few. In addition to the expanded list of crimes, the bill also removes language referencing “great bodily harm” within that statute itself.
Is This a Good Idea?
The financial implications of more inmates with a life sentence are great. A greater chance of life imprisonment means more offenders will opt for juries adding even more costs and clogging the already full New Mexico court dockets. On the flip side, less crime means avoiding expenses related to victimization. However, financial and administrative implications don’t outweigh the safety of our communities.
Aside from the financial and administrative effects, opponents of the bill state that the removal of the great bodily harm requirements potentially puts repeat non-violent offenders at risk for a life sentence that don’t truly deserve it. The best example in support of this argument is kidnapping. Under the current law, one must be convicted of kidnapping resulting in great bodily harm to the victim to earn a life sentence. The new bill removes the great bodily harm requirement, which means any kidnapping will essentially suffice.
First-degree kidnapping involves only “injury” and not great bodily harm. No actual harm is needed to fall within second-degree kidnapping. Those against the bill argue that you could be unnecessarily sentenced to life imprisonment by simply holding someone by the arm to take money from them. But, do we really want kidnappers to be released simply because they didn’t cause great bodily harm? Keep in mind that this would only count if it were their third violent felony.
If you take a closer individual look at each crime added, you will find that most require great bodily harm as a factor within their defined statutes. For example, let’s take a look at statute 30-17-6:
Aggravated arson: Aggravated arson consists of the willful or malicious damaging by any explosive substance or the willful or malicious setting fire to any bridge, aircraft, watercraft, vehicle, pipeline, utility line, communication line or structure, railway structure, private or public building, dwelling or other structure, causing a person great bodily harm.
The key distinction between arson and aggravated arson is the harm involved; it’s the harm that escalates arson to aggravated arson. The majority of the crimes added to House Bill 56 are violent in nature themselves, so removing the great bodily harm language isn’t really necessary to change the intent of the bill, but leaving the language in isn’t really harming anything either.
Other states that have three-strikes laws allow life sentences for non-violent crimes because their statutes are written and applied broadly. However, New Mexico is not one of them. New Mexico’s three-strike laws is very narrowly applied. So much so that no one offender is currently serving a life sentence under the current statute.
Allowing additions of violent crimes that would warrant a life sentence seems reasonable in order to prevent repeat violent offenders from further harming society. Should the language be modified to protect non-violent defendants from unintentional consequences? Probably. Allowing room for judicial discretion for individuals that may not deserve such a harsh sentence would be a great start and keeping the great bodily harm requirements ensures the statute will be applied narrowly and only to violent offenders as originally intended.
Authored by Ashley Roncevic, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law